By now, you’ve probably heard about the new report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which accurately says that the only way to stop the worst effects of climate change in this century is a unprecedented investment in preventing them by 2030. As Brian Kahn wrote for our sister site Earther last night:
All scenarios that limit warming to 1.5 degrees require massive global investments: on the order of $2.4 trillion annually from 2016-2035. For comparison, the world spent roughly $280 billion installing renewable energy last year. We’re talking an order of magnitude more commitment on top of rejiggering the entire global economy, though one that could come with massive financial upside.
“These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors,” the report states.
This news came in the same weekend as two distinct political events in the Western hemisphere: first, the first-place finish of far-right Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro— who has threatened to follow Donald Trump’s lead and pull the 11th-largest emitter of CO2 emissions out of the Paris climate deal—in that country’s presidential election, and second, the confirmation of intensely pro-corporate, anti-regulation Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
In other words, there’s nothing to indicate that we, human civilization, will ever get our shit together, let alone in time to stop the worst of climate change.
There are three very simple reasons for this:
- Capitalism would need to radically transformed in such a way that it would functionally be something different, and very few governments will be willing to do this.
- Most of the people who are making the explicit decision to not do shit about this now will be dead by the time conditions are apocalyptic.
- The people who are making that decision now who won’t be dead are going to be just fine by the time conditions are apocalyptic.
Barring an economic catastrophe, deeply unpopular war, a natural disaster of epic proportions, or a combination of some or all three which causes a socialist left which puts this problem front and center to grow exponentially, it’s hard to see how the first situation changes. In the United States, the second-largest emitter of CO2, there currently exists no major party which is even willing to offer a fundamental critique of capitalism. We are truly starting from scratch.
The latter two reasons go hand in hand with the ethos of “fuck you, I got mine.” As Quartz found earlier this year, the median member of Congress is worth $1.1 million, 12 times as much as the median household. Our president is a billionaire. Because the poor don’t have access to power and decision-making, and these assholes do, nothing is going to be done about this. Climate change is already disproportionately displacing and killing the global poor on a catastrophic level.
As the effects of and disasters spurned on by climate change slowly start to envelop us all, little will effectively change. The ultra-wealthy will find a way to survive no matter what comes. Incredibly rich people who care about what kind of world they leave for the rest of us, such as Tom Steyer, are doing so not because it’s in their interests—although it surely is in the long-term interests of capitalists to prevent the kind of increase in costs that will come as a result of climate change—but as a form of philanthropy. We cannot count on philanthropy and philanthropists to fix this problem.
It’s obviously easy to be pessimistic under these circumstances, but we’re reaching another breaking point in a long line of breaking points. Eventually, something has gotta give.